You may be familiar with Montessori schools, or maybe even Waldorf, but how about Reggio Emilia? It was certainly new to me. Last week I attended an open house event at the newly-opened, Open Air Academy in downtown Denver and learned from the Director, Stacey Shields, that the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education used at Open Air, has been in the United States since the late 1980’s. While fairly new to the Denver area, Reggio Emilia schools have attracted the worldwide attention of educators and were hailed by Newsweek magazine in 1991 as the best preschools in the world.
The uniqueness of the school is immediately apparent as soon as you arrive in the parking lot. Part of Denver’s TAXI community, the urban appeal of the re-purposed taxi depot and freight warehouse is only heightened by the fact that it is located right next to the train tracks. The front doors to Open Air open on top of the train-viewing platform, where teachers use the passing trains as a learning opportunity.
Inside Open Air feels like being outside, as natural light spills from the skylights, huge glass windows and glass double-doors leading to outside learning spaces from every classroom. An open floorplan, exposed duct-work ceilings, bright colors and warm, natural surroundings are all part of creating unique discoveries and experiences in an energetic setting. There is even an urban garden where the children plant and grow their own “edible education landscape.”
During my tour of the school, Shields emphasized the role of parents as educators alongside the teachers and their importance in building a cooperative and collaborative environment. This philosophy prepares children for Expeditionary Learning and future academic success. Every aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach is on display at this state-of-the-art learning center, encouraging children from infants to five years of age to explore their world and their imaginations.
The staff at Open Air could not have been more helpful in explaining the curriculum, structure and overall philosophy of their unique program. They are very excited to be offering something different to Denver families including a variety of fun Summer Camp programs going on now for school age children 6-12 years of age.
Open Air offers full-time and flexible part-time programs at competitive prices even though they are privately owned and funded. Unlike most preschools, Open Air has set a cap on how many children they will enroll, ensuring the teacher-to-child ratio will always provide every child with the individualized care they need.
Not sure if this non-traditional school is right for you? Open Air offers a trial period, so you and your child will be comfortable and confident with your choice, whatever you choose.
Chris is a directionally-challenged pilot’s wife in Denver, CO, navigating motherhood and marriage as a SAHM turned unintended WAHM. Life is a misadventure mixed with mayhem in the Birdhouse – follow along at mamabirdsblog.com.